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An Oregon school board shot down an updated policy that would have mandated classrooms in the Gresham-Barlow school district to display Black Lives Matter and “progressive pride” flags or posters.
On May 6, the Gresham-Barlow School Board updated the district’s “Flag Displays and Salutes” policy to require that the school board provide an American flag, pride flag, and BLM flag for each classroom. The policy gained virtually no support among board members. Just two of the board’s most progressive members voted in favor of the revised policy.
Robyn Stowers, a school board member in favor of the flag policy, launched into a tirade about the alleged importance of the flags before the board took a vote. She began by apologizing to students for the “traumatic experience” of having to debate a flag policy.
“As a board member, I would like to apologize to our students for this traumatic experience. All students deserve to be seen, heard, and respected. Your identities and your human rights should not be up for public debate,” Stowers said. “The intention of this policy is to create safe, welcoming, inclusive spaces for all students. To do that, we must first accept that not all students in this district have the privilege [of] feeling safe and represented in the classroom environment. We must accept and understand that institutional racism and oppression is real so that we can take the steps to eradicate them from our schools.”
Stowers continued by listing the reasons why the American flag is inappropriate to fly.
“The United States is not perfect,” Stowers said. “Under the American flag, there is a history of attempted genocide of Native Americans, stolen land, broken treaties, Native American boarding schools, enslavement of black people, segregation, Jim Crow, police brutality, Japanese internment camps, Chinese exclusion act, forced acts of sterilization, anti-LGBTQ laws, exploitation of migrant workers, and other human rights violations at the southern border, just to name a few.”
At the end of her tirade, Stowers claimed that having the progressive pride flag would “literally save lives” and played the “Black National Anthem” for the school board.
Opponents of the policy claimed that the BLM flag represented a political message and it was not the job of schools to side with a political organization. School board member Blake Peterson said he found the embrace of BLM to be “inappropriate.”
“I think there are valid perspectives within our community that the BLM flag, in particular, is representative of an organization with clear objectives. Some of those are pronouncedly political objectives, and I think it’s inappropriate for us to side with an [political] organization.”
Another opponent, school board member Mayra Gómez, said that she did not believe the flags would impact students.
“I don’t think that flags are going to make a difference,” Gómez said. “Our students know when we care about them. Our students know who their true allies are. And I’m not going to be a part of creating a culture of fake allies.”
The school board voted down the policy along a 5-2 margin.
Following the no vote, Stowers berated her colleagues for not supporting BLM or the LGBT community.
“I would like clarification on what exactly,” Stowers asked. “Is it the BLM flag? Or is it the LGBT communities that you don’t support? Or is it both?”